A new restaurant chain is putting carbon footprinting on the menu – literally
Otarian, 190 Shaftesbury Avenue , London WC2 and 181–183 Wardour Street, London W1
By eating an Otarian ‘carbon saving combo’ meal instead of meat just one day a week for a year, the average Londoner could save enough carbon to drive from here to Naples in a hybrid car.
It’s a novel sales pitch from this new vegetarian restaurant, which recently upped the sustainable restaurant ante by becoming the first global chain to carbon footprint its entire menu. The footprint for every dish, alongside that of an equivalent meat dish, will be displayed in its new London branches in Shaftesbury Avenue, Wardour Street, and two branches in New York.
Founder Radhika Oswal, a lifelong vegetarian and environmentalist, was inspired to open the chain because of her dismay at the “rabbit food and tofu” usually served up in the name of vegetarianism. “Vegetarianism is the most sustainable and environmentally conscious way of eating and being, because the foods have a lighter ecological footprint, reduced water impact and lower carbon emissions,” she says, “but I have found it insurmountably difficult to find decent dishes around the world.”
Otarian’s carbon-saving menu is backed by a no-air-freight policy. Ingredients that would typically be flown in (like fresh herbs from Israel) are transported by road, and where no reliable supply without using air transport is available – for example with lemon grass – dishes have been reformulated to exclude them. “Only very small quantities of chillies are available without reliance on air freight, so we use these where we can, and top up with chilli powder,” says Radhika.
While other sustainable restaurants have focused their efforts on organic or local produce, carbon emissions are at the heart of Otarian’s strict food policy. “We welcome moves toward more local and organic farming methods,” she says, “but our focus has been on developing dishes with the lowest carbon footprint possible.”
The chain takes a similar view on buying local; it buys as locally as environmentally sustainable, but in all cases takes into account the total carbon footprint of the entire life cycle for each product. “Local food is not always the most environmentally sustainable choice,” says Radhika, offering by way of example produce grown in green houses heated with fossil fuel energy, which are much more carbon intensive than the same produce from a nearby region grown in a more sustainable manner. “British tomatoes can have a significantly higher carbon footprint than Spanish or Dutch tomatoes, even when transport is taken into account, so we source tomatoes from Spain and the Netherlands (according to season),” she says. (However, while the carbon footprint of Spanish tomatoes, for example, may be lower their water footprint will be higher, in an area where water is scarce – Ed).
This attention to sustainable detail is equally evident in the restaurant décor: almost everything from the floor to the ceiling is made from recycled materials. The Zulu chairs use a southern African technique to weave recycled plastic onto recycled aluminium steel frames, the ceiling decoration is made from recycled aluminium, and pendant lights are created from broken pieces of glass.
Restaurants in our On the Menu section are chosen by the team from Ethical Eats, the informal network of London restaurants and catering businesses that care about sustainability. www.sustainweb.org/ethicaleats
Ethical eaters can help their favourite restaurants to go green by encouraging them to join the Sustainable Restaurant Association. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7837 1228 to find out how easy it is to use your consumer power.
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